The Yankees and McCann: A Perfect Match

Just two days ago, Bradley Woodrum reviewed the remaining catchers on the free agent market along with the teams looking to sign a catcher. He concluded that there were four starting catchers available for seven jobs. Now it’s three catchers for six jobs after the New York Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year contract yesterday. And Kudos to Woodrum for predicting this signing in his article.

This is what we know of the deal thus far. It is a five-year contract worth $85 million that contains a no trade clause and some kind of vesting option for a sixth season. Details on the option year are still unclear. If reached, the option will bring the total value of the deal north of $100 million.

In many ways, this move is a match made in heaven. McCann is one of the best defensive catchers in the league, he combines a good feel for the basics of the position with excellent pitch framing skills. Per Woodrum’s article, McCann’s saved 65 runs over the last three seasons via pitch framing. In addition to his defensive reputation, McCann carries a loud bat that is typically 20 percent above league average. That’s not catcher average, it’s league average.

Steamer projects McCann to compile 3.6 WAR over 402 plate appearances. With the designated hitter role now available to him, McCann may see as many as 600 plate appearances (barring injury). If we’re being thoroughly pessimistic, we can call that 600 plate appearance projection about 3.5 WAR. Add another 1.5 WAR for catching contributions not currently included, like framing, and McCann projects as a roughly five WAR player in 2014.

If we assume that the cost of a win will be around $6 million, then the Yankees are paying for 14 wins over the guaranteed portion of the contract. While catchers do tend to age more rapidly than other position players, McCann is entering his age 30 season, so he’s relatively young. At this point in his career and given that we project him to about five wins in 2014, he may be able to earn the entirety of the contract over the first three seasons.

There is also the consideration of home stadium. McCann is a pull hitter and drives most of his home runs out to right field. Per Fangraphs’ own park factors, McCann is moving from a stadium that is league average for left-handed home runs (100 park factor) to one that inflates home runs by 14 percent (114 park factor). Below is an overlay of the two stadiums.

Turner Yankee Overlay

And here is McCann’s spray chart from 2013, so you can visualize how many warning track shots might have found their way over the wall.

McCann 2013 Spray

This information is not accounted for in the earlier projection that we discussed. Since McCann’s offense game is particularly well tailored to his new home park, it should mean that the Yankees will get an even greater return on their investment.

From the Yankees perspective, this deal may indicate a lesson learned. Last offseason, the Yankees were attempting to cut costs and refused to offer Russell Martin a reasonable, two-year contract. He eventually signed with the Pirates and helped them reach the postseason for the first time since the height of the Roman Empire 1992.

Meanwhile, the Yankees received almost no offense from the four catchers they employed and missed the postseason. It’s worth noting that they missed the postseason by more than just one good catcher, but that was one of the black holes on the roster. Third base, shortstop, first base, right field, and designated hitter were also varying degrees of terrible. Really, it’s amazing that they won 88 games, but I digress…

With McCann off the market, other clubs looking for starting catchers will have to choose between Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro, and a variety of backup quality options. Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan also remains available on the trade market. The Red Sox are the most tangibly in need of a catcher at this point.

There is some speculation that the signing could affect negotiations with top free agent Robinson Cano, but that strikes me as unlikely. With the paucity of reliable catchers on the market, the Yankees needed to strike quickly to plug that void. I have little doubt that they would have acquired McCann with or without Cano.

It feels as though this match was inevitable. The Yankees had every reason to value McCann more highly than any other team. They have a hungry fan base that supplies massive revenue, a dearth of quality internal options at the position, and a home stadium that maximizes McCann’s offensive potential. Of teams interested in catchers, only the Rockies can match the Yankees on that latter point, but they can’t come close on the revenue side. All told, this deal smells like a winner for both team and player.




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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, MLB Trade Rumors, and The Fake Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

96 Responses to “The Yankees and McCann: A Perfect Match”

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  1. Los says:

    I so want David Ortiz to admire a long homerun with McCann behind the plate.

    +48 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Kevin says:

    “Really, it’s amazing that they won 88 games…”

    It really is truly amazing that they have won 3 more games since the regular season ended despite missing the playoffs.

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  3. triple_r says:

    Add another 1.5 WAR for catching contributions not currently included, like framing, and McCann projects as a roughly five WAR player in 2014.

    Is WAR going to be changed for the 2014 season? What am I missing here?

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    • Brandon Firstname says:

      Basically fangraphs doesn’t include pitch framing in WAR.

      It seems pretty obvious to me that this is something that needs to be done. The stats are consistent enough to where we can be confident that they measure a real thing. Sure, there’s the issue that some pitchers are different to frame than other pitchers, but we already reward catchers for throwing out runners even though the pitchers are the biggest factor there. And when it comes to framing, catchers are definitely the biggest factor, by a lot.

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      • Chief Keef says:

        If you add 1.5 WAR for catcher contributions, such as framing, well, it decreases the value of WAR that much more. These stats aren’t that predictive and there are many smart baseball people who debate the actual value there in the first place. Adding ~1.5 WAR for framing is entirely arbitrary.

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        • Brandon Firstname says:

          It’s not, though. Catcher framing can easily be scaled to a RAA scale, so that the overall net effect on WAR will be zero.

          And it’s arbitrary how? You basically get runs for turning balls into strikes, and lose runs for strikes that become balls. And we use linear weights to determine the run value of a ball/strike, so that the run value is not arbitrary at all.

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        • Brandon Firstname says:

          Also, if you look at catcher framing stats, they are relatively predictive. Their year-to-year correlation is very, very good.

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        • Ted Nelson says:

          Historical WAR is not meant to be predictive. It’s meant to be descriptive of how the player actually performed.

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        • joser says:

          In other words, it only decreases the value of WAR if you’re using it wrong.

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  4. Jaack says:

    The most amazing thing about that spray chart is the hit McCann got on the compass rose.

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    • Billy says:

      Maybe the compass was in the upper right of the picture and he moved it down to the bottom right and forgot to put that homer back up where it belonged?

      I have to admit, I missed that until I saw this comment.

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    • The Party Bird says:

      Must have been Joe West umpiring that day for that to be a hit.

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  5. Thrust says:

    I don’t know how much Russell Martin helped the playoff push (OPS+ 100)…McCann was at a (OPS+ 115)

    Also I think the Yanks were dead last in power from the catcher position…

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  6. Vince says:

    The Yankees and McCann: A Perfect Match

    I thought this was going to be about how self-important and humorless they both are

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    • JCA says:

      looking forward to Suzyn Waldman praising him for insisting that players respect the game and play the right way.

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      McCann has that reputation based on two events that occurred last year. Never heard anything bad about the guy since he was a rookie and all of a sudden he was one of the most hated active players in the game because he yelled at Carlos Gomez for doing…….eh, you’ve all seen the video. Anyone who wants to claim that any other catcher would have let Gomez round the bases while screaming at everyone in the infield is free to do so. I get the criticisms with the Fernandez incident, but I see nothing wrong with confronting Gomez the way he did.

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      • Dom says:

        Can we not got into this pointless conversation again? It was not a one-way street, and everyone involved was guilty to some degree.

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      • jim S. says:

        McCann is a really nice guy who has grown into a leadership role on the club. His teammates love him. I’m not sure how he’ll do under N.Y.-level scrutiny, though.

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  7. Joel says:

    What was the crowdsourcing contract for him? $60 million or something?

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  8. Damn my torpedo says:

    Eh, more money being spend unwisely. they could have signed Salty at 1/4 the cost and platooned him with Cervelli for similar numbers.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Do you really think Salty will go for 1/4 this rate? I’m expecting at least 4/50 if not more and that’s with the qualifying offer factored in.

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      • Damn my torpedo says:

        What I know is that a QO was not made and the Sox are not so stacked or stupid that they would reject the pick. I also know that it’s quite clear Salty will be platooned from now and that’s not getting him 4/50.

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    • Salty is a worse investment. His price will be inflated because of last year and he’s the same age as McCann with not at all as consistent of a track record.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        And he sucks defensively, while McCann’s really good.

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        • Mike G says:

          per baseball-reference.com
          Player A 2013 WAR 2.2
          Player B 2013 WAR 2.7

          Player A 2012-2013 WAR 3.0
          Player B 2012-2013 WAR 4.3

          Player A is Brian McCann and Player B is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty is also 2 years younger than McCann. I’d rather have Salty because he will be cheaper and younger and McCann isn’t better. You’re not getting 2011 Brian McCann anymore.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Huh, it’s too bad we don’t have any knowledge of differences in playing time, are completely unaware of any outside circumstances that may have affected Player A’s 2012 performance and have no knowledge of the component stats underlying each player’s performance.

          Otherwise, we might notice that Player A had superior rate stats in 2013 despite recovering from a shoulder issue, and that the only reason Player B was even close offensively was due to a BABIP .050 above his career average, while Player A had a BABIP .028 below his own career norms.

          We might also note that 2013 is the only year that Player B has ever been even average offensively, while 2012 is the only time in the past 5 years that Player A has not been about 19% or more above average offensively.

          Yeah, it’s just terrible that we don’t have that data.

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        • Mike G says:

          And I guess we should ignore the fact as to WHY Player A has missed time? A 2 year older catcher that hasn’t played more than 128 games the last three years. Yeah, I’m going to enjoy laughing at this contract in a couple years.

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  9. Joseph says:

    There needs to be a qualifier on “The Red Sox are the most tangibly in need of a catcher at this point.” The Jays just finished off a season where J.P. Arencibia had one of the worst batting seasons in not-so-recent history (57 wRC+ in 138 games, -25.2 Off; how does that even happen?!); I’ll agree that the Red Sox probably are the *contending* team most in need, but definitely not if you include also-rans like the Jays.

    Maybe I’m bitter, not that this signing really helps.

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    • Damn my torpedo says:

      Ross
      Lavarnway
      Vazquez
      Butler

      First organization problems..

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      • Mr Popper says:

        Hate to break it to you, but each of those players is not good. At all.

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        • Mike G says:

          Vazquez is a great defensive catcher prospect. Not much with the bat though. but saying he’s “not good. At all.” is an exaggeration. Also, he left off Swihart for some reason who is clearly the catcher of the future for the Sox.

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        • Damn my torpedo says:

          Not much with the bat? Did someone misinform you about his playing in the PCL or something? The guy was promoted with a .357 wOBA last year.

          Say he’s awful small so his low ISO is about right, but don’t say he’s not much with a bat. If my catcher provides decent defense and gets on base at a .350 clip, I’m as happy as a clam.

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      • SDiaz says:

        Ross and Butler are adequate backups. Lavarnway is not a catcher (though I love how there are some Sox fans who hate Salty because of his D and then talk up Lavarnway). Vazquez could become a solid defense first starting catcher. But he is only 23 and while I like his future, I imagine watching him receive several hundred MLB PA’s at this point would be agonizing.

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        • RC says:

          Thats funny, seeing that Baseball America named him as their best defensive catcher in the IL last year.

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        • Damn my torpedo says:

          No, Fangraphs posters reliably coming across as idiots is never funny.

          Mike G; I didn’t mention Swihart because at this point he’s not depth. I suspect he will be in 2 years or so but, as far as next year goes, the Sox s/would bring back Varitek/s before promoting Swihart.

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        • sdiaz says:

          Thats funny, seeing that every scouting report on him ever states otherwise. I know which award you are refering too, and it is one that is voted by managers in the league and is about as reliable as gold gloves. If he were capable defensively either Boston would have given him ample opportunities or other teams would be blowing up Ben Cherington with offers.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Yes the Jays are the other team that really needs to sign a catcher. Technically more than the Red Sox honestly, but the Red Sox being who they are…

      The other teams in need of a catcher can survive with backup quality options, but they should try to get someone better.

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  10. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Pretty much the most obvious match this offseason.

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  11. Mookie says:

    What is the condition on the sixth year of McCann’s contract? Has that been reported?

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  12. Tom says:

    So they had the second best receiver in the game (http://statcorner.com/CatcherReport.php), and just shelled out $85 million for McCann? Is his offense really THAT valuable?

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    • Derke says:

      Did you see Chris Stewart’s offensive stats? McCann also has a great rep as a receiver, and the same catcher stats you’re linking us to there have McCann at the top of the league in years prior, while still being above average last year.

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      • Tom says:

        I just wonder how many additional runs he’ll produce offensively, because he’s starting 12 runs in the hole. Is it $17 million dollars worth?

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        • Derek says:

          They Yankees do have the advantage of being able to overpay (assuming 189 is out the window). However, for where they are on the win curve, each additional win is worth more to them. I would love to see the ZiPS projections for McCann over the life of this contract to get a better idea of the agreement’s value.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          He’s really not starting 12 runs in the hole. You do realize that the site you linked to lists more than one year, right?

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Chris Stewart sucks at blocking pitches and at throwing runners out.

      That’s not even getting into the fact that McCann’s offense is, in fact, worth about 3 more wins than Stewart’s.

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      • Tom says:

        Stewart probably makes league minimum, and has 10 runs framing on McCann (1 win). So, McCann’s contract ($17 Million) makes sense if he can outhit Stewart to the tune of 40+ runs (4 wins), each year, for the next five years. No thanks.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          You have access to more than one year of stats. Use it. Stewart isn’t better defensively. McCann was a top 5 pitch framer every year from 2007-2012.

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        • Tom says:

          If you want to go back further than 2013, Stewart hardly played. You’ll have to use the per-game-column in those years to compare the two. You lose.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          I actually can and did use the per game column, and it tells me that they are pretty much equivalent at pitch framing, and that McCann is also much better at blocking pitches.

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        • YankeeGM says:

          If u watched Chris Stewart at all this past season you’d know how god awful he really is. It was painful to watch!

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    • jruby says:

      Short answer: Yes. McCann’s offense is THAT valuable.

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  13. Green Mountain Boy says:

    Although anything is better than what the Yankees ran out there at C last year, they could have gotten the same thing for 1/3 the total money by signing Saltalamacchia. I know the short RF is going to help McCann, but the same would be true for Salty, who has been way more durable than McCann over the past 2-3 years. Maybe Mr Cashman figured Salty having to cut his curls and beard would sap his power.

    Frankly, McCann has been a major disappointment for quite some time now. Every year it’s something different. So good luck with that signing, Brian. Maybe you’ll get one good year from him out of the five.

    -15 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Spencer D says:

      McCann is way better than Saltalamacchia.

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    • As opposed to Salty who was a top prospect, is the same age as McCann, and only has one good year in his whole career…. McCann is clearly the much better investment, especially when it’s the Yankees. Using what the league averages to pay per WAR can be thrown away with the Yankees. McCann is more of a sure thing to produce than Salty, so the Yankees went with him.

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    • noseeum says:

      Let’s assume the option vests and this deal becomes $100 million. There is no way Salty is signing for 1/3rd of that.

      Beside that, McCann is a far better player. He’s a better defensive catcher and a far better hitter without the insane platoon split Salty has. Every MLB team would gladly take McCann over Salty.

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      • Damn my torpedo says:

        You and the other guy who believe Salty is getting 33-50m are going to be sadly disappointed. I’d bet he’s back in Boston with something like a 2/18 type deal.

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        • jruby says:

          So Saltalamacchia’s going to sign for a touch more than Marlon Byrd? When there are exactly 3 legit starting catchers on the market and 6 teams with a need?

          So far, the FG crowd has been pretty good at predicting the real world contracts. They have Saltalamacchia pegged for 4/44.

          Point being: There’s no way he’s signed for anything less than 3/30. You’re the one who’s going to be surprised, I’d wager.

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      • Mike G says:

        Your comment totally ignores the fact that Salty is 2 years younger than McCann and has been better than McCann that last two seasons.

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        • Harry says:

          using just the last 2 season is not a fair comparison. Mac was battling shoulder injuries that zapped his power for most of 2012 and then missed the 1st month of so of 2013 recovering from shoulder surgery.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Not to mention that McCann struck out less, walked more and hit for more power than Salty did last year, and that the biggest difference was that Salty’s BABIP was 50 points above his career average, while McCann’s was almost 30 points below his.

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        • RC says:

          “Mac was battling shoulder injuries that zapped his power for most of 2012 and then missed the 1st month of so of 2013 recovering from shoulder surgery.”

          You really think a 32 year old catcher’s shoulder is going to just pop back to how it was when he was 25, and remain that way for a deal that is going to take him to 38?

          There’s a really high chance that McCann ends up a DH with a .310 wOBA significantly before he end of this contract. He’s risky as all hell.

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        • R S says:

          Let’s be real…it’s only a 15month age difference. Not that huge.

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        • Dan says:

          Salty will be 29 in 6 months. McCann will be 30 in 3 months. That is not 2 years.

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  14. Metsox says:

    Looks like Gary Sanchez isn’t ready…

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Well, yeah. He only got like 100 PA in AA last year.

      He’s at least 2 years out, at which point they’ll probably ease him in as McCann’s apprentice.

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  15. vivalajeter says:

    I just don’t trust that he’ll be much of a contributor in the last half of the contract, assuming the option vests. Piazza was leaps and bounds better, but his last solid season was at 33 years old.

    McCann put up 4.4 WAR over the last two seasons combined, he’s had an injury problem, and Tex is blocking a transition to 1B in the next couple years. He’ll obviously help the Yankees in the near term, but for whatever reasons, I don’t picture McCann aging too well.

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  16. Dmitry Choklin says:

    How many runs saved equate to 1 WAR? is 10 RS = 1WAR or am i misremembering?

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  17. Nate says:

    You forgot the most important reason why Brian McCann and the Yankees are a perfect match: he’s a royal asshole.

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  18. Andrew says:

    Lets not view this contract in a vacuum but next to Molina’s 75/5 from last year. Makes the Cardinals look really good yet again.

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  19. pft says:

    They could have had Martin for much less, last year. McCann is a good signing, but not if they still have in mind staying under 189. There were cheaper options which could have made more money available for the many other holes. Of course, if they are scuttling the 189 plan and going to try and compete, its a good deal.

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  20. Dave says:

    You state that catchers age more quickly than other position players, however if I recall correctly Dave Cameron refuted this in an article just last week.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      That article only covers offensive data when it’s defense and GP that I would expect to suffer with age. Furthermore, we have so few catchers beyond age 35 in the sample, I suspect that survivor bias/other biases are at play.

      Usually, we see the better hitting catchers like VMart, Mauer, and Napoli move to another position late in their careers. Perhaps I should have worded my statement differently, but the whole point was that the DH would help extend McCann’s career and value to the Yankees.

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      • tz says:

        And McCann hits well enough that he’d be a reasonable DH. His career OPS+ is 117, which is right about where Billy Butler and Kendrys Morales were last season.

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        • vivalajeter says:

          Will he still hit well enough when he’s 32-33 years old though? For a catcher in his 30′s, you can’t just look at career rates.

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  21. Anon says:

    This deal really makes you wonder why they didn’t just resign Russell Martin.

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  22. Sivart says:

    Didn’t we just dispel the “catchers age more rapidly” myth here recently?

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    • vivalajeter says:

      I vaguely recall such an article, but unless there’s tremendous evidence, I don’t see how one article can “dispel the myth” when the “myth” seems so logical.

      Logically, catchers should age faster than any other non-pitcher position. The wear and tear is much higher, and if you ask most people which position would age fastest, virtually everybody would say catcher.

      For a study like this, it’s very hard to conduct. What criteria do you use, how do you set up the data, how do you analyze the results, etc. There are different ways to approach it. Just because one person approached it one way and concluded that catchers don’t age poorly, it doesn’t mean that catchers don’t age poorly. Especially if the writer went into the study trying to achieve that result (although I’m not implying that in this case).

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    • RC says:

      The only thing we dispelled is the notion that fangraphs knows how to control for survival bias.

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  23. tyrone says:

    They can save this money to sign SP or OF who have power, it’s more important for them to sign a catcher who is already 30 and have injury history. Yankees already have some people can hit DH next year. If they care about the threshold of 189M, it’s what should they do. If they don’t care, just sign anyone they like.

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  24. tz says:

    Negative Triple Crown for me:

    1. Lifelong Red Sox fan
    2. Root for Braves since moving to Atlanta
    3. Monday

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